Northland native shares experience about Broadway during library fundraiser

Kellie Houx/Staff Photo

Broadway performer Betsy Struxness, center, poses with her parents, Paul and Randi, before their performance at the Woodneath Library Center fundraiser for The Story Center.

KANSAS CITY — Betsy Struxness has some deep roots in the Northland. She graduated from Winnetonka High School and performed in a few shows for Gladstone Theatre in the Park. Then it was three summers in a Tivoli show at Worlds of Fun, and she studied ballet at the Kansas City Ballet School.

Her parents, Randi and Paul, are the leads for the local ukulele band Strum and still live just outside of Gladstone. Her sister Haley Stone leads WERQ Dance Fitness.

“I was overdue for a visit home,” Struxness said on a recent trip that included a spotlight moment or three on behalf of the Woodneath Library Center. She came to raise money to restore the historic house on the Woodneath campus to become the home for The Story Center.

Woodneath Press Manager Dave Burns said Struxness seemed like a perfect match to the theme of the program, Libraries Rock, as Struxness had a run with the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” the rock and rap Tony-award winning musical. She performed the song “Satisfied.”

“Right now we have about 70 percent of the funds raised,” he said. “We have been fortunate with the support. We have good community outreach, and that is what storytelling is all about. We believe the community needs us to be here. We plan down the road to even add digital storytelling recordings.”

Before she shared her love of libraries and sang, Struxness spoke about her education, her music and her love of books.

“It started with the Antioch library branch,” she said. “That was the home branch. I have been a library fan for as long as I can remember. I would check out the maximum number of books. I had to have books around me, and I still do. When I was in ‘Wicked,’ I read the book, and the same thing for ‘Matilda.’ When I am commuting on the train or at the beach, I have a book in my hand. My dream home is to have a dedicated library.”

After her graduation from Winnetonka, Struxness attended Juilliard and studied classical dance. She received her union card three years after college. She would go to auditions and then her waitress job.

“I felt like it took awhile to get a break, but I ended up in the third production of ‘Wicked’ in Chicago and San Francisco,” she said. “Then I got onto Broadway with ‘Memphis.’ I got to be there for nominations for best musical.”

Struxness said she wanted to help originate a musical. That first run was “Leap of Faith,” a show that lasted two and a half weeks before it closed. She went back to “Memphis,” and then that musical closed six weeks later. The next was Kathie Lee Giffords’ “Scandalous.” That musical lasted three and a half weeks.

“I kept auditioning,” she said. “I then found ‘Matilda,’ and I became part of the ensemble and understudy for Ms. Wormwood. That was about 18 months.”

During the workshop phase of “Hamilton,” Struxness went in and auditioned. While she was a member of the ensemble, she also was the understudy for Angelica.

“The costumes were so pale and creamy, and I looked very beige,” she said. “I added the red lips. We even had lipstick Fridays.”

She got to perform as part of the ensemble during the Grammy performance but left the show to explore other career options. She is currently doing voice work, including reading a chapter of “Lost Letter” and a short story for “Meet Cute.”

“If students are seeking a career in the arts, keep challenging yourself,” Struxness said. “It was a solid six years of moving show to show, essentially six Broadway shows in six years. Keep exploring, and now I am looking to be a lead. I may write a show. I am thinking about exploring film and television.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.